Trim the Fat: Get LEAN about your Career

Sometimes you come across or use concepts at work that could just as easily apply to your career. Working for a LEAN enterprise, I can definitely tell you that LEAN is one of them.

What is LEAN? The concept comes from manufacturing (I think?) but it’s all about eliminating what isn’t needed to improve workflow and efficiency. Making things simpler, easier to understand, and faster to do, basically. At my work what it means is to streamline our standard operating procedures to the degree possible so that we can provide the highest-quality services, and continuously update and improve our processes through a feedback loop.

What do I think that has to do with career planning, though? Actually a lot.

Well, maybe not the planning part per se, but once you have brainstormed and identified what it is you want – either the next job, or the 3-5 year goal, or the career / role / industry you want to transition into, then it’s time to remove all nonvalue-added work activities.

Get laser focused on that “next.”

You may have heard about the Eisenhower Principle (of sorting tasks in to Urgent / Important). But even if you have, it’s usually imposed upon you by work – to sort your work to-do list into what must be done ASAP, what needs to be done when you have the bandwidth, and what you can ignore or eliminate so you stay focused on what matters to your organization.

I suggest you start using this same approach to your own professional development. (Here’s just one example from James Clear). Now I’m not saying you should ignore or eliminate work that your boss needs you to do or that matters for your performance review!

But….what can you cut, or at least deprioritize? You need the bandwidth in your work time to

  • make space for the webinars you need to view and readings you need to complete that will help you build the knowledge base to get to your “next”
  • stay engaged with your industry and current in your field of knowledge
  • ensure that what you’re working on isn’t just what your work cares about, but projects / areas that are meaningful to you, too

Again, please note I’m not saying you need to abandon all actual work at your job and focus solely on you. But, the pendulum usually swings in favor of your employer; most people spend 99% of their work time on what their employer needs done. What about your career, getting yourself positioned for your “next”? And maybe it’s because I do professional development for a living at my day job, but any employer who doesn’t allow you enough “down time” to stay current in your field or engage in larger conversations surrounding your work? I don’t have time for them. And maybe neither should you.

There’s a reason that actors rehearse all of the time, and work out, and ensure that they are always presentable. Because when their rare moment comes, they need to be ready at a moment’s notice to audition. They can’t afford to not be fit enough to take on the role of a lifetime, or be out of practice when their time comes. It’s the same in your career. You need to be already positioned for your “next” so that when it comes along, you are indisputably the candidate to beat. And to be on top of the job application pile, you need to be on top of your game, current in your skill set, and ready to take on bigger challenges.